Interview with Joshua Dysart, writer of Harbinger from Valiant Comics

Valiant Comics has made a huge comeback this summer with the relaunch of X-O Manowar, Harbinger, Bloodshot, and Archer & Armstrong. Joshua Dysart is the writer on Harbinger and he has created an emotionally complex relationship between series protagonist Peter Stanchek, and ever-looming corporation Harada Global Conglomerates.

SEQUART: Let’s start with the original Valiant universe. What was the first Valiant book you remember reading?

Joshua Dysart: It was the first seven issues of Harbinger collected in the 2008 trade Harbinger: The Beginning, and I read it in November of 2011. I’d never read any Valiant before Warren Simons approached me with an offer to pitch them. I said I was interested and he sent me a bunch of books. I read a whole slew of X-O Manowar, Archer & Armstrong and Harbinger. Archer & Armstrong was actually my favorite of the old stuff. I’m excited to see Fred Van Lente on it. I think he’s awesome.

SEQUART: The original Harbinger series was a massive success when it came out. What was it about that book that resonated with fans?

DYSART: I think the book was really concerned with smashing apart some entrenched and staid conventions of the super-hero genre at the time. It took real chances. It was willing to gamble on the fact that you might not like everything about its central characters and yet still be engaged with their struggle. As writers, we get that note a lot, you know? That our characters have to be likable, or at least relatable. But that’s bullshit. It’s a lazy note given by unambitious imaginations. The greatest narratives of all time have been driven by characters that were bastards and unrelatable cads. Harbinger knew that. Harbinger took a chance on that. And that’s just one way in which it is was a fresh book for its era. There were many things that Harbinger pushed onto popular comics that are now the norm.

SEQUART: How did you get connected with the new Valiant guys?

DYSART: They reached out to me. Executive editor Warren Simons had read Unknown Soldier and dug it. So he gave me a call.

SEQUART: What’s it like working with them?

DYSART: It’s great working with them. I love the whole staff. I have not met a single soul in the company that I didn’t instantly connect to. And the other writers are all lovely, lovely people too. We just did a writer’s retreat in New York where we broke down our immediate plans across all the books and I can honestly say that Robert, Fred and Duane have, in just a few short days, become real friends of mine.

I know it sounds like I’m just kissing company ass here, but I really do feel that way. It’s a small organization and there’s this sense that we’re all in this together. I’m a sucker for small tribes that are willing to take on the world.

SEQUART: Harbinger was the second of four books to come out of the new Valiant universe. The first was X-O Manowar which took place in the past and then on the vine alien spaceship, so Harbinger was the first book to really show what life in the Valiant Universe was like. What was it like to be an architect on the new Valiant Universe?

DYSART: I think that’s sort of what Warren wanted from me. The original Valiant was, in the beginning, trying to be the “world outside your window”. I don’t know if I’m a good writer or whatever, but I do know that I’m not an escapist. In a medium that thrives on escapism, I’m inspired by the real world around me. So all I had to do was just write like I write. Attack the concepts of the book in my truest, clearest voice, and the rest would work itself out.

SEQUART: I reread the first issue of the original Harbinger in order to compare it to your own first issue and the differences are vast. The original moves at a much faster pace to the point of being sort of confusing and though the moral implications of Peter’s powers are present, the character is always portrayed as a hero. Meanwhile, your issue takes a more focused look at Peter and shows the character abuse his power by forcing Kris into loving him. Yet, despite these differences, the feel of the book is still similar. So, what is the essence of Harbinger? What did you latch onto in the original to bring to the present?

DYSART: The essence of Harbinger is the struggle between Harada and Peter. And this still resonates, because it’s a lens on the greater struggles in our society. Generational conflict, economic class conflict, the dissonance between the individual and the collective, the limitless corporation versus the independent mind… It’s all built into that original book. And those are timeless themes. More than timeless, they’re timely. The Baby Boomers have remained in dominant control of the culture longer than any other generation in history. They have robbed the future from the youth and refused to get off the stage. It’s a field day for the heat, there’s a thousand people in the street, to quote Buffalo Springfield. Harbinger was always relevant, but never more so than now.

SEQUART: In the issue #4 of Harbinger, Peter notes that Harada looks ”about forty-five years old.” Does this make Harada an extension of the idea  that Harada (like the Baby Boomers) is just holding on for too long?

DYSART: Exactly! In truth Harada was born just before WWII, which places him out of the Boomer demographic by about half-a-decade. However, appearing as if he was born in the mid to late 60′s places Harada right at the tail end of the Boomer phenomena. Either way, coming or going, Harada is a representation – albeit a supernatural one – of the peculiar and historically unique situation the post-war baby boom has put our culture in.

SEQUART: Toyo Harada is such an ambiguous character in the series so far. How would you describe Harada?

DYSART: Harada is a man who’s spent his whole life aggregating power in all its forms so that he can use it to push humanity in a direction he feels better represents our full potential. He demands a kinder, more giving species. And he is willing to be the bad guy to achieve his goals. But he also suffers from the arrogance of the powerful. It’s his utopian vision and no one else’s. That’s all he has room for. He is a man of power, and he will use the means of power to stay in power. He believes that no one else can save us. If he’s right, then whether we struggle against his control or not is irrelevant. But, if he’s wrong, who will save us from him?

SEQUART: Project Rising Spirit was referenced in the second issue and is mentioned again in the pages of Bloodshot. What can you tell us about Project Rising Spirit? What is their relationship with Harada?

DYSART: I’d love to tell you all about that. But another writer in the Valiant universe and myself are building up a whole storyline around just such a reveal and we’d hate to show our hand while the game is still in play, if you get my drift.

SEQUART: I’m really interested in the complexity you have developed with Harada Global Conglomerates. On the one hand, it’s a different take on the “big corporation” that we usually see in comics in that it doesn’t seem like such a bad company. Yet, in the third issue, Peter seems to distrust the corporate mentality. So, the dichotomy is almost flipped in a way because the corporation seems heroic and the main character that the narrative has been following is portrayed as having the potential for great evil. What led you to this relationship?

DYSART: You know, I’ve done my fair share of polemic storytelling in the past. But I’m sort of over it now. Life is complex and I want to reflect that. At the same time, even the reading you’ve given above, just flipping the roles (benevolent corp, evil poor kid) doesn’t keep it from being any less reductive. So expect things to get way more complicated than that in future issues.

SEQUART: Can you describe your scripting process?

DYSART: I don’t mean to promote my website here, but I did an extensive write-up there on how I get started on, and finish, scripting a story. It’s filled with broad-strokes that might help beginning writers find their own process.

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Cody Walker graduated from Missouri State University with a Bachelors and a Masters of Science in Education. He is the author of the pop culture website and the co-creator of the crime comic . He currently teaches English in Springfield, Missouri.

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